The problem of the succession to the throne was at last settled by the birth of a prince in October (1537). There was now an heir whose claims if he lived would be unassailable. But within a few weeks the queen died; and there was still only the life of one baby to shield the country from anarchy, in case Henry himself should die. With probably genuine reluctance, the King agreed that he would marry again if a suitable wife could be found for him; and the whirligig of intriguing for his union with one or another foreign princess was set in motion; princesses related to Charles, or to Francis, or to one of the Lutheran chiefs. Two years elapsed before the choice was made which, led to Cromwell's downfall. And in the meantime Mary of Guise (or Lorraine) was withdrawn from the lists by her marriage with James V., whose Queen Madeleine had died a few months after the nuptials: while the Duchess of Milan, a youthful niece of the Emperor, was for some time utilised by Charles as a diplomatic asset. The risk of an Anglo-Imperial alliance was employed by him in negotiations with Francis; and when these negotiations were brought to a successful issue the proposed alliance was gradually allowed to drop.

[1538 Diplomatic moves]

During 1538 however, this marriage was being dangled before Henry, accompanied by the hope that it might cause a rupture between Charles and the Pope, from whom a dispensation would be necessary - a question which could not now be raised without the kindling of explosive materials. Further the English quarrel with Rome was being embittered by a campaign against spurious relics, miracle-working shrines, and the like, involving a particularly virulent attack on St. Thomas of Canterbury, the type of defiant ecclesiasticism. Moreover, the arrival of a deputation of Lutheran divines in England was ominous of the closer association of the bodies which had revolted from Rome. Reginald Pole, a member of the house which stood high in the Yorkist line of succession [Footnote: See Front.], who had been not long before raised to the Cardinalate, had for some time been carrying on from the Continent a violent propaganda against Henry. Pope Paul's Bull of Deposition was again being talked of, though there is some doubt as to whether it was actually published.

[Sidenote 1: The Exeter Conspiracy] [Sidenote 2: Cromwell strikes]

Under all these circumstances, it is scarcely surprising that a new and formidable conspiracy, essentially Yorkist, was brought to light. In fact the whole country was sown with spies, and there was not much difficulty in obtaining information of treasonable speeches, when hasty expressions of discontent counted for treason. Now outside the offspring of Henry VII., the Marquis of Exeter, Edward Courtenay, was a grandson of Edward IV.; the Poles were grandsons of his brother, Clarence, whose daughter, their mother the Countess of Salisbury, was living still. The theory that a tyrant might be deposed and another scion of the royal house substituted, had ample precedent; and it is in no way improbable that the Courtenays, who were all-powerful in the West, might have been ready enough in conjunction with the Poles to make a bid for the throne, if they could have found or created a favourable opportunity. The Cardinal had warning from Cromwell that the safety of his kinsmen was jeopardised by his diatribes; while Lord Montague, the head of the family, was on very close terms of friendship with Exeter. Exeter's own conduct on the occasion of the Pilgrimage of Grace had been suspicious. Out of these materials there was no difficulty in constructing a damning case against as many members of these Plantagenet houses as might be considered advisable: since there was no need to prove that rebellion was actually organised. It was enough to have a record of the use of disloyal expressions, or even of the concealment of the knowledge that such expressions had been used. Finally it was notorious that there was no love lost between Cromwell and the suspected nobles. Cromwell, having collected sufficient evidence for his purpose, struck. Geoffrey Pole, a younger brother, learned that the blow was coming in time to turn informer. How far there was anything really deserving the name of a conspiracy the evidence produced did not show; but the existence of treason under the Treasons Act was indisputable. The policy which had struck down Buckingham nearly a score of years before was repeated even more ruthlessly. The materials for formulating a Yorkist rising were destroyed; there was no figure-head for one left when Exeter and Montague had been executed (Dec.), even though the old Countess of Salisbury's doom was deferred. And men realised afresh - if there was need that they should do so - the irresistible machinery that Cromwell had prepared for the certain annihilation of any one worth annihilating.

[1539 Menace of Invasion]